Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Aarhus Cathedral - Denmark

Aarhus Cathedral, in Aarhus, Denmark, is the longest (305 feet) and tallest (315 feet) church in Denmark. Aarhus is on the Jutland Peninsula which is connected to Germany at its southern border and also separates the North Sea from the Baltic Sea. Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, the other city in Denmark we visited, is on the island of Zealand, southeast of Aarhus. 
Aarhus Cathedral viewed from the front. Photo from
My picture - with a blue sky.

The red brick stands out and note the anchor to the middle right. Probably a nod to St. Clement and the location near the Baltic Sea. 
Aarhus Cathedral is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, the state church, and is the cathedral for the diocese of Aarhus. It dominates the downtown of Aarhus and is so tall that it is difficult to get a good photo of. However, by comparison, Strasbourg and Cologne Cathedrals are 472 and 516 feet tall, respectively, and comparatively Aarhus is substantially smaller. It is dedicated to St. Clement, the first bishop of Rome who is considered the first Apostolic Father and the patron saint of sailors. According to the Coptic Church, Clement was martyred in 100 CE during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan when he had an anchor tied to his neck and was then cast into the Black Sea. So Clement is often depicted with an anchor. The maritime connection made Clement particularly popular in Scandinavia where sailing was predominant.  
Picture from here. When we visited, some type of concert was being set up and we did not get an unencumbered side view. 
My picture - note the activities going on that conceal portions of the cathedral. 
Back end of the cathedral.
The construction of the cathedral began about 1190 and was completed in 1300. It is built of red brick, that was new at that time, and popular in Scandinavia and northern Germany for church and public buildings. The cathedral and much of Aarhus burned down in 1330 and the church was abandoned until 1449. The cathedral was then rebuilt and enlarged and completed (apparently) in the early 1500s. The reformation in Denmark began in 1524 with Hans Tausen, the Danish Martin Luther. Most of the common people were attracted to Luther's ideas that were being spread, particularly the idea that they could hear the liturgy in their own language (Danish). By 1528 most of the cities were reforming their churches. Christian III was proclaimed King of Denmark in 1533 following the death of Frederik I. The State Council of Catholic bishops refused to accept his election and wanted the Catholic Christian II to take the throne. This precipitated the two year Count's Feud where Christian III prevailed and in 1536 Denmark officially became a Lutheran nation. 
Aerial view - picture from I'm guessing that the roof is copper and the brown portions are patches that have not yet oxidized. I'm intrigued by the shape of the cathedral. It is in the shape of a cross, and the little extensions at the front, at the base of the steeple, appear to be representative of the resting place for Christ's feet on the cross. 
Entrance. Picture from here
Ceiling view. The altar and stained glass window are at the back.
Looking the opposite direction. The organ pipes above.
Closer view of the organ pipes. The organ was built by Lambert Daniel Karstens in 1730, a student of Arp Schnitger of Hamburg, one of the best known organ makers in Europe. It has been restored, enlarged and updated several times but the facade has been maintained. 
The inside walls were originally covered with frescoes from the period of 1470 to 1520 (apparently the decoration of choice during the rebuilding). During the Reformation, many of the frescoes were destroyed, but a number remain. 
Fresco of St. George killing the dragon.
I've read that there is a fresco with three tiers showing purgatory, the day of judgment and St. Michael, the weigher of souls. St. Michael, or some other angel, is carrying a resurrection cross and banner. The scales have demons holding on for their lives on the right side. The resurrection cross appears to have broken-off from the scales and pierced the angel's right arm. The broken section is just barely jutting out of the angel's sleeve. 
Frescoes are found under the arches in the church.
Aarhus Cathedral has more frescoes than any other church in Denmark. 
Saint Barbara. She is often portrayed with a three-windowed tower. She was the daughter of a rich pagan who kept her locked up in a tower to preserve her from the outside world. She secretly became a Christian. While her father was away, she had three windows put in the tower as a symbol of the Trinity, instead of the two he had wanted. 

I believe this fresco is of St. Christopher and St. Clement, the largest remaining fresco in Denmark. St. Clement to the far right, holding an upside down anchor, representative of his death. St. Christopher was killed in either the 3rd century by the Roman Emperor Decius or the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maximinus II Dacian. The most famous story about him is that he carried a child, who he did not know, across a river. The child then revealed himself as Christ. So he is revered as the patron saint of travelers. As in this fresco, he is often portrayed holding a branch and carrying the Christ child on his back or shoulder. Here, St. Clement appears to have replaced the Christ child as the figure being carried. 
This appears to be the 12 disciples.

This appears to show show Jesus with some kind of skin disease and an ill-turned foot. As the depiction of Jesus in the Isenheim Altarpiece intended, perhaps this is showing that Jesus understood the peoples' ills. There is a fresco in  the cathedral painted in about 1300 that is near the "leprosy window." It is the only piece of art from the previous cathedral that burned down. 
These frescoes are in the cupola above the altar. 
The cathedral has only one stained glass window, located behind the altar, the largest stained glass window in Denmark. At the top is Christ standing in golden light, next is Christ being crucified, and the bottom shows Christ lying in his grave on Golgotha. The altar piece was carved by the Lubeck sculptor and painter Bernt Notke and it was dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1479. It is considered one of the great treasures of Denmark. It has movable sections and so different scenes are shown during the year. 
The altar piece, the stained glass window behind it and the frescoes above.
A closer view of the altar piece and a better view of the stained glass window.
A closer view of the altar piece.
The central figures in the altar piece. 
The pulpit was carved by Michael von Groningen out of oak and dedicated in 1588. 
It has scenes from the Old and New Testament carved in it. Note the frescoes under the arch to the left. 
The cathedral has quite a few interesting tombs and memorials, some of which look like they are from the earlier church that burned down. 
This memorial plaque is dated 1587. 
The man, in this couple, is dressed in partial armor.
This couple look dressed in Renaissance finery.
This plaque looks like it could have survived a fire.
This plaque also looks like it has seen hard times.
This reminds me of Henry VIII.
I love the handle bar mustache.
Rather eery.
Deceased clergy from pre-Reformation days.
The Marselis Chapel, built for the Marselis family by the Flemish sculptor, Thomas Quellinus, is high Baroque and the largest of its kind in Denmark. 
The entry way is through a red brick wall with an ornamental lintel.
The family burial vault is beneath the floor. 
Beautiful white marble figures.
Angels cavorting overhead, doing aerials.
These almost appear to be the Three Musketeers, although a woman is in the middle. 
Ships often hang in Scandinavian churches as reminders of their connection to the sea and their loved ones lost at sea, similar to the St. Clement connection. The ship hanging in the cathedral dates from 1720 and is named "Unity" ("Enigheden in Danish). It is believed this ship was the model of a ship to be built in Holland for Peter the Great of Russia. The ship builder was sending a model of the proposed ship instead of sketches. The ship transporting this model to Russia sank and the model was found on shore. Some fishermen from Aarhus found it and offered it to the cathedral. 
Model of the 1720 ship "Unity". 
Other interesting tidbits from the cathedral:
A carved face on the end of a pew.
A wood altar.

An interesting 1702 memorial. In the center, the resurrected Christ stands on his tomb. To the bottom right, the devil pitches some sort of delight into a large dog's mouth. Adam and Eve to the upper left encounter a misshapen snake with a head that looks like a bat's. 
A rather barren side-chapel.
What appears to be an elegant wall memorial.
And another.
Aarhus Cathedral was full of wonderful decor and fantastic architectural detail of all kinds. It was well worth the visit. Most of the information from this post came from Wikipedia and the cathedral's website. 


  1. What a very interesting church! I love the frescoes--very unique!

  2. Although the frescoes are rather washed-out, they have the charm of simplicity that makes them quite unique. I think my favorite thing is the faces on the central altarpiece. Those people look like people I'd like to know.